Monday, July 31, 2006

Do Not Speak Ill of the Ed

My Mother-in-law, Marian, has certainly seen her share of tragedy. It would be imprudent to detail it all here, and I suspect that there has been more than I’m aware of in her lifetime. Recent events, however, have made this student of irony shake his head in disbelief.
When she married Ed, somewhere around 20 years or so ago, he was a friendly enough guy, but well, standoffish in an indefinable sort of way. Efforts to get to know each other better were awkward, by all parties involved, to the point where we all just sort of gave up after a time. I never disliked Ed. Ed was what would now be called an old-school mainframe computer guy – and when he retired, he wanted nothing to do with computers. About 3 years ago, in a rare moment of generosity, he handed me 2 boxes of blank 5 ¼ floppies. I thanked him for the gift, and actually kept them in a drawer for a few months before disposing of them. I think he was sincere in his own way; I did not tell him that these disks were obsolete and unusable. I think his view of technology stopped with his retirement. His involvement with my family eroded to the point where he was merely present when we were at their house – he came and went as if we weren’t there.
I really can’t say, then what happened to him in the last year or so. I have learned recently that Ed was weirder with his money than I’d previously known. I do not nor really want to know about how two older adults, marrying later in life, deal with such things. He evidently tried to pull some shenanigans with Marian’s estate, effectively taking all of it from her heirs, were she to go before he did. It was the reason for their pending divorce. When she confronted him with it, he continued to try and “make deals” with her. The irony in all of this, from my perspective, was that he 1) had more money than he could have spent in what was left of his frugal lifetime, and 2) he had no family to leave this inheritance to, just his church. I can only surmise that he felt that leaving additional funds to God would somehow add jewelry to his crown in paradise – maybe even a gated community up there.
The resulting rift left Ed to find accommodation in a trailer park in Palm Desert. Marian spoke with him about a week before they found him. He specifically mentioned that he was not going to have a $300 a month air conditioning bill, like his neighbors. Marian says she really didn’t recognize him when asked to identify his body. That he should die, alone, a victim of both his self-imposed loneliness and unwillingness to turn down the thermostat is a pitiful end for anyone.
There were forces driving Ed that I think I can recognize, but can’t fully understand. He served us all in Korea, and I don’t think the experience was a positive one. I think his religious behavior was more compulsion than devotion. I think Ed was compelled to do many things, and therein lies the tragedy for him. Whether or not Marian was able to see and share with the person behind those compulsions, I don’t know. I do know that, by the time I entered his life, he was not able to bridge many of the relational gaps that we all deal with to make life work. Yes, I’m sorry I couldn’t make up for it, but it takes two to tango, you know, and Ed didn’t want to dance. When told that we’d had a daughter with Down Syndrome, his message was, “Get over it and move on.” He was right, if not a little too abrupt for my generation. He was always kind, if aloof, with my children, although it’s hard to be aloof with Emma.
Marian had signed the divorce papers, Ed had not, so they were married when he died. Marian chose to take care of his final arrangements, including a ceremony for their square-dance friends. I think that that was mighty nice of her. The ultimate irony is that she, evidently, now gets to determine how his estate is disbursed. I hope it brings her some comfort for the nonsense she had to deal with.
It’s been rumored that some of that legacy may even trickle down to pay for air conditioning at my house. If it’s true, I know that I’ll think of Ed whenever I hear it kick on. Ironies abound.